Is there such a thing as a peer suicide-prevention counseling handbook?
December 7, 2016 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm part of a community with a scary high suicide rate, I talk openly about my own mental health struggles, and I make a point of checking in with friends if they seem to be doing poorly. That means that fairly often, people confess to me that they're thinking about hurting or killing themselves. I've been there myself and I can empathize, but I'd like to go beyond empathy and help my friends make sure they're safe. Is there something I can read about how to do that effectively?
posted by nebulawindphone to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure whether this is what you are looking for, but here is a little info about mental health first aid:
posted by maurreen at 1:17 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has some tips. Please don't put yourself in the position of keeping a loved one safe if they are suicidal, though. Support them in seeking help. Most areas have a crisis mental health team and I would encourage you to find the contact information for the one closest to you to help in case of a crisis. Hospital emergency departments are another avenue to seek help quickly.
posted by goggie at 1:46 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

My two bookmarked freely available resources for nuts-and-bolts "what to do when someone you know is or appears to be suicidal" are at and

If you want something a little more comprehensive and in-depth, you might look into what's called "gatekeeper training"--these are various different brief but formal training programs for community members and professionals often taught in a workshop format but also available for individual study. The two that spring immediately to mind are QPR (question, persuade, refer) and ASK (ask, seek, know).

Very important piece of info for everyone to know in this day and age is that there is a suicide text helpline (741741) and a few different online chat sites (crisischat, Suicide Prevention Lifeline chat) that meet the needs of individuals who need support but aren't comfortable for whatever reason with the idea of calling a voice phone hotline.
posted by drlith at 2:30 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I took this Mental Health First Aid course, and I feel like I'm much more prepared to handle others' crises.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:38 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I also came here to recommend Mental Health First Aid.
posted by epj at 2:47 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everyone in my office did the QPR training that drlith mentioned, and I've found it helpful. It sounds like you're already doing a lot of what they tell people to do, but it might provide you with some more specific techniques and resources. If you're a member of any community organizations, they could probably arrange a group training.

I've also done Mental Health First Aid, and that does cover this issue, but it's a little more general.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:31 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I rememeber this talk on Suicide Risk Assessment and Intervention Tactics from a conference I attended a few years ago (Defcon 21). There are pointers for more information inside the talk.
posted by aprass at 9:21 PM on December 7, 2016

I was a volunteer phone counselor at a suicide prevention hotline for two years. Living Works has a two-day intensive called ASIST that pretty much is the model we use during our extended training. We also had a formal training manual, so you might consider emailing your local hotline for any resources they can provide and/or consider volunteering! There is nothing that will prepare you more to handle these peer-to-peer conversations than, well, having them. The main reason I started volunteering was because I had the same nervousness, and while I can't commit to the time or the drive anymore, if I lived closer I wouldn't hesitate to volunteer again.
posted by idealist at 7:55 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've done both ASIST and a Mental Health First Aid course (different to the one linked above, but same principle), and I think if I was going to go for one in your situation it would be ASIST. Both were very good, but ASIST is all about suicide prevention and very intensive . It's worth saying that ASIST have shorter sessions and an online session about suicide (at idealist's link, under 'programs') as well as that two-day version.

If that's not available to you, Kay Redfield Jamison's excellent Night Falls Fast devotes the latter part of the book to the prevention of suicide - that covers everything from societal issues to medical ones, and includes things on what the people around someone who might be suicidal can do (and the evidence base, or lack of it, for interventions that exist).

And goggie's advice is excellent - support people to seek help, rather than taking on the responsibility of keeping them safe.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2016

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